The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle


A very happy birthday to Eric Carle today, author and illustrator of so many delightful books, who is 84!

Carle was born in 1929 in New York to German parents but went back to Germany when he was six years old. After harrowing experiences through the war, Carle returned to America in 1952 where he got a job as a graphic designer for the New York Times and later at an advertising agency.

The work of Eric Carle is easily recognisable, his artwork and illustrations are unique and his books tell of nature and the world. Carle himself said that with his books  “I attempt to bridge the gap between the home and school. To me home represents, or should represent; warmth, security, toys, holding hands, being held. School is a strange and new place for a child…I believe the passage from home to school is the second biggest trauma of childhood; the first is, of course, being born…The unknown often brings fear with it. In my books I try to counteract this fear, to replace it with a positive message. I believe that children are naturally creative and eager to learn. I want to show them that learning is really both fascinating and fun.”

The way Carle makes his art is fascinating. I had never really thought about it before, I assume it was just paintings but apparently his work is created like a collage using hand painted papers that are cut and layered to form the images. There are also other techniques such as die-cut pages, and actual twinkling lights and noises in some books as well. All very high class compared to the felt puppets and faux fur I remember from my books.

My favourite book of Carle’s is of course The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I read this so many times as a kid it’s great. Yet another example of interaction and creative book creation, there are holes in the book, the pages are different sizes, it is amazing. It seems growing up Carle was familiar with different shaped books in Germany. I understand the reasons why but we need more books here that are weirdly shaped.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was published in 1969 and the story behind it is rather cool. According to Carle, “One day I was punching holes with a hole puncher into a stack of paper, and I thought of a bookworm and so I created a story called A Week with Willi the Worm.” But how did we get to the caterpillar? Willi was a bookworm, but apparently poor Willi would not be a great protagonist as a green worm (poor Willi), then Carle’s editor suggested a caterpillar, which made Carle think of a butterfly and there you go. So in a sense we can all now say the very hungry caterpillar’s name is Willi. This must be made known to the world.

I must say, this was a fun review to write, short books, especially children’s books can bring out a silliness you really can’t get away with for big, long, serious books. If you don’t know the story of the very hungry caterpillar you may not want to read ahead, but even if it spoils it, which is will because there is nothing much else to talk about in there, then I half apologise and half demand you go read the book.

Published: September 29th 1994
Goodreads badgePublisher: Puffin
Pages: 26
Format: Picture Book
Genre: Children’s Picture Book
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

This is a story of suspense and tension. The main character of this story is born into a world in constant hunger and we follow him as he devours food at an alarming rate, never able to quench his hunger. Day after day he does nothing but eat, eating more and more as the days go by. He tries to be healthy in the beginning but as the days progress his hunger drives him to junk food and after all that cake and sugar and cheese…well, that’s right, he becomes ill. The suspense was amazing. Was this finally the way to stop this hunger machine before he ate through his world of food? Could this tummy ache be enough to stop his rampage on the food? Would there still be enough to support the remaining population? I had to read on to find out.

After having eaten so much this character had become so large he hides himself from the world. So large in fact he must built a house around himself to shield the judging eyes of the neighbours and those who come across him. Housebound, and living off the vast amount of food he’d consumed in his lifetime, this character is sheltered from the world. Until one day, after probably taking a good long hard look at what he’d become, had an instinctual desire to change himself, become a new and brighter person. After emerging slowly from his custom built house to this new world he was no longer a very hungry caterpillar, he was a beautiful butterfly (or he’d eaten himself into a food coma and was delusional about his true butterfly abilities. Either way).

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Very Hungry Caterpillar Day | Lost in a Good Book

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